The destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage during, and following, the second Iraq War has been staggering, and we are all deeply saddened by the human suffering of the Iraqi people. The losses include the 2003 looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad and the large-scale looting of archaeological sites throughout Iraq. In the ancient past, Iraq was the birthplace of cities and writing. Iraq continued to be a center of world civilization as the homeland of the Sumerian, Assyrian, and Babylonian empires, and the capital of the early Islamic Abbasid empire.

Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past

U.S. tank outside the children’s section of the Iraq National Museum. On April 8, 2003, a gaping hole in the façade of this gateway was made by a U.S. tank round. Photo: Joanne Farchakh Bajjaly.

This revised exhibit presents an updated selection of the panels from the original show first displayed at the Oriental Institute in 2008. Versions of the show have been shown in Europe and Asia, and it has been translated into Arabic and Japanese. This smaller version of the show is on exhibit in the Lower Level of the Oriental Institute adjacent to our Kipper Family Archaeology Discovery Center. This exhibit, presented on the tenth anniversary of the looting of the museum, serves as a reminder that Iraq’s cultural heritage is still under threat.

The Oriental Institute publication of the 2008 exhibit, Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq’s Past, edited by Geoff Emberling and Katharyn Hanson, is still available for purchase and is free to download as a pdf. online.


Catastrophe! Ten Years Later: Looting, Destruction, and Preservation of Cultural Heritage in Iraq and the Wider Middle East.

Tuesday April 16, 2013
2:00 - 4:00 PM

Breasted Hall, The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

In conjunction with the re-exhibiting of panels from the Oriental Institute's 2008 exhibit Catastrophe! The Looting and Destruction of Iraq's Past, this seminar reflects on the state of cultural heritage protection in Iraq and more generally in the wider region, at the tenth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq National Museum, Baghdad in April, 2003. The international community still mourns this theft of priceless cultural heritage, but what has happened since that time? Have lessons been learned? Is history repeating itself elsewhere in the Middle East? What can be done to stem this type of destruction?

Topics will include:

  • The Iraq Museum, Then and Now
  • Cultural Heritage in Iraq
  • Tracking Destruction in Iraq and Syria
  • The National Museum of Afghanistan
  • Antiquities and Heritage Law

Participants include:

Patty Gerstenblith, Professor, College of Law, DePaul University and Director of DePaul's Program on Cultural Heritage Law

McGuire Gibson, Exhibit Co-Curator, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology, University of Chicago

Jack Green, Chief Curator, Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago

Abdulamir Hamdani, Former Director of Antiquities in Nasiriya Province in southern Iraq, and currently at SUNY Stonybrook University

Katharyn Hanson, Exhibit Co-Curator, Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago

Morag Kersel, Professor of Anthropology, DePaul University, and Research Associate, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Lawrence Rothfield, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Chicago

Gil J. Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Chicago

This event is free and open to the public. No RSVP necessary. The event is coordinated and co-chaired by Katharyn Hanson and Jack Green.